Somewhere, right now as you’re reading this, there’s a little kid who is bugging an adult to do something which greatly amused that child in the past.

This may be something the adult got great pleasure in doing the first few times, making that kid smile or laugh or react with awe, but after countless reprises the act has gotten tedious and lost all of its appeal… for everyone but the little kid, that is.

In this allegory saxophonist Hal Singer is the adult and record labels like Savoy – not to mention the public they’re trying to reach selling their product – are the little kids.

The act which is being repeatedly demanded of the exasperated Singer is of course to play more rock ‘n’ roll.


Hopalong Insistently
There are a lot of things which can cause somebody who is reluctant to do a particular thing to give in and consent to what’s being asked of them.

In the parable related above it could be that the uncle or godfather or neighbor wants to see the little kid who delights in their act – be it some tiring game, an impression or just reading them a story – be made happy.

In other circumstances, with other participants, it might be that a guy agrees to do something he’d rather not because it was a pretty girl doing the asking.

In music circles the reason will generally come down to what can best be called “career considerations”, as in: These kinds of records sell better than the kind you want to make yourself.

And so, for hardly the first time and definitely not the last, Hal Singer is consenting to play rock ‘n’ roll on a record called The Frog Hop when he’d almost certainly rather do anything else, up to and including trying to physically contort himself to fit inside the bell of his saxophone and disappear entirely.

He’s back on Savoy, where he had his only hits back in the late 1940’s, and they too are in rather desperate straits as the label’s rock credentials have taken a huge hit with artist defections as well as the loss of their most qualified producers.

Both entities, seeing the success earlier this year of Jimmy Forrest’s Night Train, which topped the charts for the aspiring jazz musician – albeit in a rock setting – have decided that sales outweigh principle or musical taste and are making another go of it.

Singer probably figures if he scores another hit, that’ll give him a few years worth of club work, plus regular session fees playing behind others, not to mention record deals of his own where he can indulge in the kind of music he prefers as long as he consents to give them one or two songs of this nature in return.

As for Savoy Records… well, they HAVE no musical principles, tastes or even mild interest in what comes out of Singer’s horn, as long as it moves a few copies once it hits the streets.

Froggie Went A Courtin’
You’d have no way of knowing this in 1952, nor any awareness of what it meant at that date even if you happened to take a gander at the call sheet for this session, but in the studio on this late August date just happened to be the core of the New York session musicians who’d go on to define the 1950’s rock scene over the next five years or so.

The second saxophone here is played by Sam “The Man” Taylor, who we’ve met before – including on his own rather muted entry into the artist sweepstakes – but who will from this point forward be the go-to tenor for every label cutting tracks in the area.

We also have Mickey “Guitar” Baker, who had just laid down his own first efforts to connect as a solo artist after a few sessions behind others.

Two people – plus Hal Singer himself – may not sound like much, but considering that between them, Taylor and Baker probably played on hundreds and hundreds of quality rock songs over the next decade, this is a moment in time that should be immortalized somehow.

Luckily that “somehow” is a pretty good rock instrumental called The Frog Hop, proving yet again why intent along with a genuine effort to conform to the expectations of the genre, is all that stood in the way of Hal Singer having a much deeper résumé in this field.

Here he gives it his all and while the record is hardly too inventive – especially after swiping much of the intro from Forrest’s aforementioned hit – the arrangement more than makes up for any lack of creative inspiration.

The key here is the way in which they switch the focus throughout from Singer’s sax to Baker’s guitar. The saxophone, as you’d expect, gets the lion’s share of the time in the spotlight, and does a pretty good job too, as Singer is using a beefy tone while some of the passages are grinding along nicely, but even when he lays off a little, there’s always another sound to compensate.

Ironically this may be best shown in the record’s weakest moments, as they temporarily hand things over to Dave McRae’s alto, along with a trumpet, for the bridge in what could’ve been really good had they let Taylor take this part while waiting for Singer’s return. Instead, as could be expected with the higher range horns, the lines are far too thin which removes the urge to dance which the earlier parts had in abundance.

But that’s when Baker’s responsorial lines pull their fat from the fire, giving us not only a different sound with his axe, but also a more authentic one in the context of this type of music, as his fast riffs focus your attention on that rather than what now seems like nothing more than an underpowered lead-in. As a result when Singer jumps back in, sounding far more legitimate than the other horns had, you don’t have any trouble readjusting.

Though it’s clear this was something of a stitched together song, taking a bunch of unconnected riffs and grooves and slapping them together, it somehow remains remarkably cohesive and maintains a steady forward momentum that doesn’t let up. Because of this it satisfies the needs of those who want to have background music for their drunken hijinks at a Saturday night party when the parents are out of town, yet still works as a record to do your homework to come Monday evening when the folks are just down the hall making sure you don’t try and sneak out.


A Hop, Skip And Finally A Jump
While he lived more than a century, Hal Singer’s reputation as a recording artist basically rests on a handful of rock singles, all of which were cut either under protest or with resigned disgust at the tastes of those buying them.

When a record as good as The Frog Hop failed to make the charts I’m sure there was a part of him that was grateful for its disappointing returns, as it confirmed to him that artistic compromise in the sake of commercialism was not something to be proud of.

He may have even figured he was free to cut more jazz sides that just a handful of hipsters were going to buy… unless he chose instead to do something without interest to fans of ANY field such as the cover of the country hit Indian Love Call that was given the A-side designation on this single, perhaps to appease Singer, while the rock side got the lead slot in the ads because Savoy knew it’d have the better chance to hit.

That’s what Hal Singer always failed to realize. While he was definitely admired as a jazz musician and some of his albums in that field have some lingering acclaim, he never was going to reach more people than he did while rocking… and he wasn’t too pleased about that to the very end.

By contrast Sam Taylor, who began with Lucky Millinder’s band, and Mickey Baker, who put aside his own highbrow jazz aspirations to concentrate on rock for financial reasons, may not have had a natural affinity for rock ‘n’ roll either, but unlike Singer they weren’t going to bite the hands that fed them and thus never even had time to be disgruntled about it since they got more work than they could handle as the core of rock’s secret brigade.

Sometimes the way you have to look at it, whether dealing with an eager four year old wanting to play horsey, or an expectant bunch of teens and early twenty-somethings looking for to you to supply them with some rock ‘n’ roll mayhem, is to say to yourself… it’s better to be openly embraced for giving them what they want than it is to be ignored for giving yourself what you want.

Here we get what we want and subsequently embrace Singer for giving us his best rock release in four years.


(Visit the Artist page of Hal Singer for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)